Another day and another post. I’m about 10,000 words off the pace, but strangely that seems about par for me at this point in the month. It just means that everything will get exciting at the end. Here’s the raw form of Chapter 4. Enjoy!
“High Priestess, wake up. Please, wake up. We need you.”
Azura opened her eyes slowly. Something cool pressed against her lips as gentle hands helped to raise her into a seated position. She saw familiar pillars and tiles, covered in hieroglyphics praising the gods. The gentle sound of the holy fountain welcomed her. Though she didn’t know how, she had made it home.
“Please drink, High Priestess. You need water,” said one of the young priestesses, holding a golden cup to her lips. She was more a girl than a woman, and Azura couldn’t remember her name at first. Truthfully, she could barely remember her own name. The water crossed her dry lips, and she felt it run down her throat, soothing and cooling her.
How long had she been without water? How had she returned from the Pinnacle of the Phoenix? Had she climbed the thousand stairs to the peak? Or had it been just a dream?
“There are enemies, High Priestess. We need you. You must inspire the temple guards to victory,” said the young priestess. Her name was Sakhmet. Azura smiled – pleased that her thoughts were returning.
She gazed over at the wall. Isis stood behind Osiris as he battled with Set. An emptiness grew inside Azura. She trembled.
“Child,” said a woman whose strong voice she recognized. It was Nakhat, another priestess, and currently one of the women supporting her. Nakhat addressed Sakhmet, “the High Priestess has no strength. She is wounded. Another of us must invoke the gods to aid the guards in their battle.”
Azura turned her attention to Nakhat, a tall beauty, adorned with gold bracelets, jet black hair falling straight on her shoulders. The woman had a gleam in her eyes which left Azura feeling unsettled.
“You know that it must be me, High Priestess,” Nakhat said. “Let me take the wings as my own. Let me channel the power of the gods.” She quietly whispered, “If they have any strength left to give.”
Azura tried to speak, but it was so hard. She felt as if she had fallen from the heavens and though her body had returned, her mind still soared high above. Her lips moved, but no words came out. She sipped at the water again.
“The gods still endure,” she managed.
“What did you see?” asked Sakhmet, holding the cup close to Azura.
“I reached the pinnacle. The flame burns. The sun god still has strength.”
Nakhat squeezed Azura’s shoulder, leaned closer and said, “Osiris is dead. The pharaoh, the living god, has died. The strength of the Nubian lords has failed. Set rules Khem now. Even if Ra still sails the heavens for now, how long before even he falls, before the sun fails to rise at dawn? Our only hope is to struggle, to hope that the spells of Isis protect us and that we die with our souls intact that we may travel to the land of the death and serve Osiris for eternity. I will don the wings and go to meet the enemy in your stead.”
Azura shook her head. This was wrong. “No. No. Who is this enemy? Are they the legions of Set? Who are they?” She paused, uncertain of what else to say. Images and memories swirled around her. “The necropolis,” she whispered, not exactly knowing why, “Are they from the necropolis? Are they living or dead?”
“They are not the legions of Set. They are rapacious Hellenes, mercenaries who failed the pharaoh,” said another priestess who had a familiar face with pleasant eyes, and yet, her name completely escaped Azura.
Azura had a memory of a Hellene, a criminal punished by his own gods, and yet, he called on Helios, the name which the records claimed that the ancient rulers of the rocky lands of those northern city-states had used for Ra. Had it been a vision or something that truly happened?
“Only I may wear the wings of the goddess,” said Azura with a forcefulness that felt odd, but at the same time, strength had returned to her limbs, so she stood. Perhaps this was a gift from the goddess.
“How did I return to you?” she asked the other priestesses. From outside, she could hear the shouts of the guards.
“You were found outside the temple walls, moaning and lying in the sand. We saw the burns on your shoulders and thought you had been attacked,” said young Sakhmet.
Azura reached to her shoulders, crossing her arms in front of her chest. On each one there were marks, burns that had not been there before. “Do you know what these are?”
“No,” said Nakhet. “We do not.”
Something about her tone gave Azura a sense of danger. She stared hard at Nakhet and stepped toward her. The other woman backed away.
Azura wasn’t sure of what she was about to do, but it seemed right. She hoped that her feelings came from divine inspiration and not desert-induced madness. She pointed at Nakhet. “You have betrayed Isis. You have betrayed Khem. You have whispered prayers to the god of scorpions and jackels, dread Set himself. You would despoil the sacred wings. You would give all of our souls to the lord of darkness.”
Nakhet’s reaction was sudden and fierce. She did not even try to deny the accusation. “And if I would? Set has won. The new pharaoh will be filled with his spirit, not that of Osiris. We should serve him and revere Nephthys, his wife, rather than fallen Osiris.”
With a scream, the girl Sakhmet charged into Nakhet. The older priestess tensed, and the girl drew back, but as she did, all of the priestesses saw a blade hilt jutting out of Nakhet’s stomach. An ever-widening red stain spread across her white clothes. Nakhet grasped the hilt of the blade, but fell before she could draw it out.
“Forgive me, High Priestess,” she gasped, “but there is no hope for us.”
Azura heard Sakhmet sobbing softly, and yet, the girl had done what was right. “Her soul must be weighed in judgment and she took on the burden of betraying all of us and the gods themselves. I fear we shall not see her in the afterlife.”
Azura went over to Sakhmet. “You have done well, defending Isis and all that is good even in this time of dread.” She hugged her, and the sobbing stopped. After she let go of the young priestess, she looked to the others. “I will need the wings if I am to face our enemy. I will need the signs of the gods painted on my flesh. My strength has returned. I am ready.”
Welcome to November 2012. National Novel Writing Month has begun.
Every November, I commit myself to writing 50,000 words in a month along with thousands of other people around the world. It’s amazingly fun and really pushes my writing and time management to the limit. It’s given birth to the Crimson Hawks, Krueger and some others. This year I’m attempting a novel called Son of Helios, Champion of Ra. It’s the tale of a Greek Hoplite from Corinth going to mythological Egypt. It’s a mythological as opposed to historical tale, but it’s set roughly-ish around 400 B.C.E.
In order to shed light on the process, I thought I’d post the raw material for the first chapter that I wrote starting at 12:03 am this morning.
Son of Helios, Champion of Ra
Azura climbed the sandstone stairs of the Pinnacle of the Phoenix with her hands as much as her feet, gripping the sides of the rock and pulling herself skyward, ever skyward. Her legs and back cried out at the effort, begging her to stop, begging her to rest, if only for a moment, but she didn’t dare rest. Time, something that the endless pharaohs of old had once mastered, was not her ally. If she stopped, she didn’t know if she would be able to continue. The hope left in her heart flickered like a candle flame at the end of a wick. She tried not to think as she pushed her body up another step and pulled herself up the one beyond that. Her breath came in ragged gasps.
Memories assailed her. She thought of the sun, the bright glowing life-giving sun. She imagined its heat warming her bare arms, its rays kissing her face. She remembered staring at the sun over the waters of the sea, using its light to watch the horizon as she had done so many times. Without meaning to, she turned her head to look for it, gazing off the stairs into the haze-filled sky.
She saw a faint blurred orb struggling to penetrate the storms of sand. Though it was nearly at zenith, and she had climbed to heights that rivaled the great pyramids, still the shadows stretched to cover it.
Despite herself, she paused. She hadn’t wanted to stop, but there was no help for it. Her heart clashed with her will, and her heart felt more desperate, so her willpower relented. Staring directly at the sun, she uttered silent prayers, first to Isis to keep her strong, second to Ra to have some reserve of power left to aid her. She prayed that he held some last secret strength to help all of the people of Khem. She wiped some of the sand away from her arms and face, shaking some of it free of her black hair.
Her eyes fell away from the sky, lower now, to the churning dark clouds near the earth. Angry shapes boiled forth from the black shroud that hung as far as her eyes could see, and her sight had been once compared to that of a falcon’s. There was nothing visible in any direction but the great sandstorm, a sign of the doom that had come.
Azura fought tears. The great battle was over. The war between good and evil had ended, and Set, Lord of serpents and scorpions stood triumphant, and Lord Osiris, father of the pharaohs, lay dead, mutilated and his allies and their forces had been swept away. Evil had won. Nothing was left but darkness and despair. No pharaoh lived to rule the land, to protect the gleaming Nile with his divine person. No high priest remained with a faith strong enough to drive the storm and the shadows away. Even if such a priest did live, what was there to have faith in? The gods had fallen and even the strength of her own goddess, Isis, wife of Osiris, was lost.
“My strength is the strength of Isis,” she said to herself. Her voice was raspy from lack of water but firm.
Her eyes fell to the stairs below her. They stretched down, incredibly far, until the darkness consumed them as well. How many had she climbed? A thousand? A thousand thousand?
She looked up the stairs, wondering how many more there could be. She expected to see a thousand more reaching up into the sky, but to her amazement, there were only a handful more to go. Her heart pounded with excitement. She started to count the remaining stairs, but forced herself to climb instead.
She didn’t consciously realize when she reached the summit. Instead, she found herself standing in front of a great basin of gold, held in the golden talons of a phoenix which reached toward the heavens with its wings lifted. She wished that she had worn her ceremonial wings, that she could feel their comforting weight on her arms, even though she knew full well that she never would have completed the climb wearing them. She felt a connection with the phoenix, a bond that somehow eased her burden.
Carefully, she untied the sealed jar of sacred oil which she had carried on her journey. She opened it with some effort, and then poured out the oil into the basin. She watched as it spread over the inside of the bowl and a feeling of peace and calm rose within her. After the last drop left the jar, she gently set it down on the smooth tiles that covered the summit of the Pinnacle of the Phoenix.
She steadied herself, speaking entreaties to Isis, and grasped the Mirror of the Heavens from its place in the sun disc at the front of the basin. She bit her lip with the effort, even as she gave thanks that everything here was as it had been written in the temple. Trembling, she held the mirror in place above the basin and waited for the sun’s rays to ignite the oil.
The rushing sound of the black clouds echoed up from below. It reminded her of the sea when it fled from a storm in the heavens, but the thunder beneath her was the victory cry of Set. She shuddered even more. Memories of battles against the horrors bred by such evil threatened to steal her will and her hope.
“Oh great Ra, help this daughter of Isis. I will not surrender the lands of your people to the armies of the enemy. If there is no strength left in Khem herself, then let it come from Nubia, Libya, Kush or even the conquerors from Persia who ruled here in the time of my grandmother’s mother. Please show me the will of the gods. Please give your people hope that we may rise again, as we have so many times over the centuries.”
She did not know how long she held the mirror or how many times she prayed. The obscured sun did not give enough light, and the oil simply sat in the basin. When the solar barge had sailed far enough from the peak of the heavens that she feared the storm below would consume it, the winds hesitated and the light shone on the mirror, which focused and reflected it into the oil. A moment later, and flames burned in front of the golden phoenix.
Azura lacked the ability to cheer, but her heart felt lighter. She gently set the mirror down and studied the flames. The sun god remained unconquered.
She sat down next to the phoenix and hoped that the gods would send her a vision. As her eyes fell closed, she decided that even if she didn’t receive a vision, sleep was welcome enough.
Her last sight was the phoenix gleaming in the light of the fire.